This film is held by the BFI (ID: 11242).


INSTRUCTIONAL. Opening shot of a map of India. An arrow indicates the Deccan States and then the Rajputana States and Thar desert where the town of Bikaner is situated. Bullock carts and camels make their way across the desert to Bikaner. A map shows how the town is protected by walls from the desert sands. Shots of the walls from outside and inside the city. At the gates of the town, traffic is continually coming and going - bullock carts, camels, motor cars, bicycles. A sacred cow crosses the road. Shots of Hindus worshipping in the courtyard of the temple. The Indian schoolchildren are shown sitting on the ground doing their lessons on slates. A snake charmer and an animal imitator perform in the street (365). Water is obtained from wells outside the town. The water is pulled up in large leather bags by ropes attached to oxen. It is then poured into a stone channel which carries it to the town. Outside the town is the palace belonging to the maharajah of Bikaner. The Maharajah drives in procession through Bikaner (733ft).



The film Bikaner formed part of the ‘Secrets of India’ series, produced by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation in 1934. These films were the by-product of the company’s involvement in a filmed flight over Mount Everest, footage of which appeared as Wings Over Everest (1934) (Low, 2005, 61). Among the crew were the cameraman S. R. Bonnett and V. Veevers, who were also responsible for filming the Secrets of India shorts. Some of the films in this series were assigned to the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation while others, such as Bikaner, appeared under the Gaumont-British Instructional division, which specialised in producing documentaries for the educational market. Bikaner was one of the films for which V. Veevers was responsible, receiving ‘supervision’ from G. J. Cons, who was then head of the Geography Department at Goldsmiths College.

Bikaner is a city situated in the Thar Desert, now in the state of the Rajasthan. It was formerly the capital of the Princely State of the same name, and was founded by the Rajput prince Rao Bika in the fifteenth century (‘History of Bikaner’). Known as the ‘Green City’, Bikaner has been defined by its relationship with water. Its location in the barren desert provided its rulers with a safe haven, protecting them from having to pay tribute to more formidable Marathas (Ramusack, 2004, 23). Drought has been a common occurrence, however, with a severe famine occurring in 1899-1900.

The ruling prince at the time that this documentary was made was Ganga Singh. His long period as ruler, lasting from 1898 to 1942, witnessed many advances. He oversaw the construction of the Ganga canal, which brought water to his rain deficient state. He also introduced a number of welfare schemes; developed hospitals and schools; introduced the first Chief Court in Rajasthan; and created a Representative Legislative Assembly for his state. Ganga Singh was one of the most politically active of the Indian Princes. He was the first chairman of the Chamber of Princes, a body formed in 1921 to discuss issues of princely concern. He was also one of the principal spokesmen at the Lord Irwin’s Round Table Conference of 1931, during which the princes proposed the formation of a Federation between the Princely States and British India as a solution to the constitutional issues that were then engulfing the sub-continent.

Ganga Singh was well known to British dignitaries and politicians. He attended King Edward’s coronation in 1902; was the only non-Anglo member of the British War Cabinet in World War I; and represented India at the Imperial War Conference in 1917. His commitment to the British raj was displayed by the adoption of their favoured Indo-Saracenic style for his Lalgarh Palace in Bikaner (Ramusack, 2004, 148). His brusque manner was nevertheless not always welcomed by the British authorities (Copland, 1997, 48-49). Moreover, his advanced statesmanship should be balanced against a punitive and authoritarian mode of rule. Civil liberty was severely restricted in his state, culminating in a notorious case in which seven people received long sentences for daring to criticise the administration (Singh, 1970, 48-51). He also possessed overriding powers that curtailed the usefulness of his Representative Assembly (Singh, 1970, 90-92).



Bikaner is an educational film whose subjects range from a general introduction to life in the sub-continent, to an exploration of some features that are particular to the city. There is a repeated use of maps, which illustrate the affect that Bikaner’s geographical situation has had upon the city. Maps are also used to indicate specific features of Bikaner, such as its wells, the city wall and the Lalgarh Palace of Ganga Singh. They are always followed by the most obvious of cuts: straight to film of the subject that has been highlighted in the diagram.

Robin Baker has argued that ‘From the tone of the commentary this film was clearly aimed at British school children’ (Baker), although its distribution to other groups would not have been ruled out. The commentary commonly draws attention to particular facets of the film, and at times requests that the viewer to take note of specifics, such as the various modes of transport being used or the types of clothing that the people are wearing. It is spoken in measured tones, and is left uncluttered due to the fact that there is no use of music on the soundtrack (in its place there is the overdubbing of quiet background noises). A young audience is also appealed to by virtue of the fact that the film features a group of Indian schoolchildren, who can be seen writing on slates during an outdoor class. Their leisure pursuits are also shown; it is pointed out that ‘there are no cinemas to go to after school, but there are very funny animal imitators in the streets’. At this point the film cuts to a costumed man who performs an accurate chicken impression. For further entertainment the children can be seen viewing a favoured image of exotic India: the activities of a snake charmer.

In a more serious vein, the film provides a good overview of Bikaner’s ingenious irrigation system, which uses the power of gravity to channel water from outlying wells into the heart of the city. It also provides a brief portrait of Ganga Singh. He is first pictured in the grounds of Lalgarh Palace. The hybrid nature of the architecture is echoed in the life of the palace. Indian and British guests can be seen wandering in the gardens; the lawn is laid out for the European game of croquet; and the prince himself appears dressed in British-styled military costume and sporting a walrus moustache.

The commentary states that Ganga Singh ‘is an Indian prince and rules his state quite independently, but he has allied his state by treaty to Great Britain and accepts the King of Great Britain as Emperor of India’. It has nothing further to say about his achievements or about his role in the institutions of Bikaner. Instead the film draws to a close with a curious scene. Here the streets of Bikaner are lined with people as the prince is driven through in his car. The commentary argues that ‘the people of Bikaner, like all Indians, enjoy any kind of procession, and they gather to see their ruler drive along the streets’. Whether or not they have been coerced into this assembly is another matter; there is little evident enthusiasm for the passing of the Prince.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Baker, Robin, Bikaner, Mediatheque, BFI, London.

Copland, Ian, The Princes Of India in the Endgame of Empire, 1917-1947 (Cambridge: CUP, 1997).

‘History of Bikaner’,

Low, Rachael, History of British Film: Volume Six (London: Routledge, 2005).

‘Maharaja Ganga Singh Ji’,

Ramusack, Barbara, N., The Indian Princes and Their States (Cambridge: CUP, 2004).

Singh, Laxman, Political and Constitutional Development in the Princely States of Rajasthan (1920-49) (New Delhi: Jain Brothers, 1970).



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
733 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Gaumont-British Instructional





Production Organisations